The Fearless Hyena Review
A world away from the serious kung fu film, The Fearless Hyena features Jackie Chan in a flippant role that, while it still has some connection with a typical martial arts film, including Chan seeking revenge for the death of his grandfather, it also finds much to laugh at in the conventions of the genre. Whether dressing in drag, appearing as a beggar or, literally, fighting for his meal with nothing with chopsticks, Chan bides his time until he can face the general who struck down his grandfather. But there is much irreverence to go before that moment, reflecting a Chan who, as a director for the first time, was free to portray kung fu on the screen in his own image. Which is not to everyone's taste.
Chan stars as quite an unruly and lazy young man, Shing Lung, who has trained in kung fu with his grandfather. Though talented, he pays no mind to the instructions given to him by his teacher, least of all the one that demands that he not fight. For ever using his abilities to teach various people a lesson, he's reckless and incorrigible but thanks to his skills as a martial artist, he very rarely gets into trouble. Until, that is, those loyal to the Ming dynasty go into hiding after the establishment of the Qing empire and this includes Shing and his grandfather. Unfortunately, they cannot hide from the warrior Yen (Yen Shi-kwoon), who seeks to enforce the rule of law under this new dynasty. By, it would appear, any means necessary. Soon, Yen has caught up with them and, facing Shing's grandfather, murders him.
Left alone, Shing confronts Yen and his soldiers but he is hopelessly outclassed by the warrior. Beaten to the ground and sneered at, Shing realises that he has to do much before he faces Yen again. Out of the shadows steps The Eight-Legged Unicorn (Chan Wai-lau) who takes the undisciplined Shing into his care and begins the process of teaching Shing a style of kung fu that will come naturally to him, emotional kung fu. Performing sit-ups whilst hanging from a branch, slamming his body into a tree and often sparring with the Unicorn to prove his worth. Eventually, Shing is able to confront Yen once again but, first, there are other warriors to face, ones loyal to Yen and to the Qing empire.
One of the things that I have noticed in the watching of a string of Jackie Chan films released by Hong Kong Legends is how they have conform so readily to one of two types of film. Still to come are those in which a forbidden or lost style of kung fu is either combated or found by Chan who uses it against a rogue kung fu school or martial artist (Snake And Crane Arts Of Shaolin and Spiritual Kung Fu), whereas this is very much a part of the revenge cycle of kung fu films, which also includes Dragon Fist and New Fist Of Fury. Unfortunately, the very best part of The Fearless Hyena - it's certainly not its title - is in the lengthy training sequence that sees The Eight-Legged Unicorn disciplined in the ways of kung fu and to respect his teaching. Rarely amongst Jackie Chan films, the humour really does work, particularly the various fights with the Unicorn including that with chopsticks over a bowl of rice, the upside-down sit-ups and Shing balancing on pottery. Where Chan's comedy and sometimes stunning stuntwork disguises his fitness and ability as a martial artist, we see him here showing off both. In amongst the pratfalls, it's easy to forget Chan's abilities in kung fu but this film makes the point clearly and without fanfare.
What The Fearless Hyena eventually builds up to is a fight with General Yen and while, once again, Chan's skills are evident, this suffers from a problem that's all too common in his films, that it never seems like it might end. Both martial artists trade blows but Chan's fights often tend towards the artistry of kung fu rather than it having a place in war. Yen and Chan's Shing Lung are well choreographed but it's not until many minutes have passed that one feels a decisive blow is forthcoming. When it comes, there is a palpable sense of relief that it's finally over but, for that, there are still some fine moments in The Fearless Hyena. More's the pity that they occur outside of the actual fighting and owe much more to the comedy of the Unicorn's teaching of his difficult student.
Unlike a couple of the other films in the Ultrabit range, The Fearless Hyena is a very good looking film on DVD, anamorphically presented in 2.35:1. Where Magnificent Bodyguards was sometimes a blurred mess of a release, The Fearless Hyena is sharp with the colours looking rich and the print being detailed but never verging on being overly grainy. This is much more surprising than the many films that haven't scrubbed up at all well for DVD given that so many of the martial arts films produced in the seventies and eighties were never expected to last much beyond their initial release, which makes the quality of this print all the more surprising. After some harsh words over The Protector and Magnificent Bodyguards, all credit to Hong Kong Legends for their work on this.
With a choice of Cantonese Mono 2.0 and Cantonese and English remixes, The Fearless Hyena also sounds very good. There might not be very much going on in either the rear channels or the subwoofer but the dialogue, both in Cantonese and in the English dub, is clear and well-presented with the background music and effects put slightly back in the mix. Finally, there are English and Dutch subtitles.
Commentary: Andrew Staton is joined by Jackie Chan expert Arnie Hayirlioglu in this feature-length track that sees Staton stand up for the film in question once again. As before, he's always interesting and often entertaining but, on the downside, with Hayirlioglu, he's able to converse with someone and, therefore, less inclined to do impressions of moaning movie buffs. Happily, they tend to avoid scene-specific chatter, going, instead, towards an overview of the film and its place amongst the many other features starring or made by Jackie Chan. For anyone new to Chan or simply looking to understand this film's place in his career, it's a good listen but perhaps not quite the equal of the force-of-one Staton that is heard elsewhere.
Trailers: As with other Hong Kong Legends releases, The Fearless Hyena includes information and trailers for Police Story, Police Story 2, New Police Story, Meals On Wheels, Battle Creek Brawl and Miracles.